Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida
Now we know what Elton John did with some of those outrageous hats, platform shoes and feather boas that he wore during his heyday as a concert artist 30 years ago.
He must have brought at least some of those fancy duds out of storage for the new Disney production of Aida, which features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice.
The show’s best number is a sort of fashion show as competition in which Amneris (airhead princess of Egypt, notorious clothes horse) and her servants parade across the stage in a series of increasingly outrageous outfits. It’s silly—the music’s uptempo in a Motown vein, and you can’t help but smile. It’s the sort of thing that the Disney people (who found box-office gold with their previous Broadway-style productions based on animated Disney flicks Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King) know how to do well.
But at other points, the Disney approach runs into problems. The show features two rather embarrassing numbers centered on Zoser, a scheming government minister who’s maneuvering his son (the handsome, good-hearted Radames) into a position to marry Pharaoh’s daughter. This father-son/good vs. evil struggle is presented in such flat and obvious terms that it makes the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker exchanges from Star Wars sound like Shakespeare. Credit the wooden lyrics by Tim Rice, and some limp melodies.
Speaking of bad lyrics, try the love scene in which Radames (Patrick Cassidy, already halfway out of his shirt, and flashing some lovely abs) finally gives into the temptation to bed Aida. As their hands slide all over each other, and long-resisted passion takes control, Radames sings (with an apparently straight face) “I want to touch your … heart.” Elton John’s melody doesn’t contribute much heat to the situation, either.
But at their root, most of the problems with this show stem from a basic mismatch between the trademark Disney style—bright, apolitical and always determined to entertain—and the story of Aida, which hinges the credibility of sudden, unexpected love between two highly placed people from desperately opposed cultures, so overwhelmed by their fatal attraction that they sacrifice their thrones and their lives, rather than be separated. This show tries to go back and forth between frivolous fun and noble tragedy, and ends up undercutting itself in the process.
The show does have several strong points. Actress Simone, in the title role, has a commanding presence on stage and shows some real vocal power. Director Robert Falls, designer Bob Crowley and an enormous team create a steady string of stunning images onstage—Aida is visually rich throughout. And the show ends with a nice twist—in a scene touched with mysticism and restraint, rather than with a bombastic production number.
But on the whole, Aida is an uneven affair, with lots of eye appeal, but not a whole lot else to recommend it.